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Caryn Ann Harlos

Gender Neutrality

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I brought this up at the convention a few weeks ago, but I am immensely surprised that gender neutrality was not part of the 12th edition's changes.  I am not talking about even going to extreme lengths to root out any possible incidence that could be interpreted as non-neutral, but seriously, why does it cling to using "chairman" when when "chair" is perfectly serviceable?  It is very jarring.  And it happens not infrequently when I am asking questions of other and quoting RONR citing a provision that says "chairman" the other person inevitably says "well he should do...." when our chair is not a he, but a she.

People already think RONR can be old-fashioned and stuffy.  This additional barrier does not help.

 

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It can be a bad thing when it alienates a group of people that really were not part of its original audience. 

If the intent is to be old-fashioned and stuff and proud of it, well then perhaps I am pursuing the wrong interest.  There are things in the past that need to die in a fire.

 

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10 hours ago, Caryn Ann Harlos said:

but seriously, why does it cling to using "chairman" when when "chair" is perfectly serviceable?

This is an issue that goes back to the 1970s and '80s at least. Serious consideration was given to re-editing the entire 12th edition to avoid the use of generic "he" and "him", as was done for RONR In Brief, but it simply didn't happen this time around. However, that is a different question from use of the word "chairman".

"Chairman" is the traditional title of the office and is adamantly considered by many — including among groups largely composed of women — to not carry any sexist implications. RONR has made it clear for a long time that each group is free to use whatever terminology it likes in this respect; that doing so is a common practice; and that it represents no conflict with the rules in RONR.

And in fact, the presiding officer is generally referred to in RONR as "the chair", not "the chairman". A quick search shows that "chair" appears in the rules of RONR more than 1,250 times (although some of them may be the verb form), while "chairman" appears less than 200 times.

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11 hours ago, Caryn Ann Harlos said:

It can be a bad thing when it alienates a group of people that really were not part of its original audience. 

If the intent is to be old-fashioned and stuff and proud of it, well then perhaps I am pursuing the wrong interest.  There are things in the past that need to die in a fire.

 

As someone who does write a bit, I do not use "gender neutral" terms, though I use examples of both genders and the appropriate pronoun.

Some of the things we do goes back to the 15th Century, at least.

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8 hours ago, Shmuel Gerber said:

And in fact, the presiding officer is generally referred to in RONR as "the chair", not "the chairman". A quick search shows that "chair" appears in the rules of RONR more than 1,250 times (although some of them may be the verb form), while "chairman" appears less than 200 times.

I know, which makes it puzzling that consistency wasn't in place.  What is the official style guide for the authors?  I can't think of one style guide that would think such inconsistency is a good thing.  Just like RONR is the guide for procedure, writing has its own guides.  If it is APA, gender neutrality is now the rule, but consistency has always been paramount.  The Chicago Manual of Style is not as strong on gender neutrality (but I forgive them because they recognize the superiority of the Oxford comma) but still privileges consistency.

Language is fluid, and this is the future of language.  Embrace it now or embrace it later, but RONR will have to eventually.  There is zero excuse for using chairman.  I have no issue if a man wishes to use chairman.  Lovely, knock yourself out.  But no one should insist that a woman should embrace it, or even worse, the abominable Madame Chairman which is a walking contradiction.  It costs so little to be considerate on this point.

 

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And though not a political forum, I do feel the need to add this.  Don't let the pink hair fool you.  I am not some radical feminist.  I am not a feminist at all.  So that is not the place I am coming from.  However, it is a denial of reality to ignore the power of language, and little girls grow up keenly aware that language acts as if they don't belong in certain spheres.  There is a reason we don't generally use policeman any more but rather police officer.  I don't go through contortions to force everything into this (for example, I don't get all lathered up over 'mankind' though if it doesn't sound stilted, I will use humanity in its place) but when it is easy, there is really no excuse not to be inclusive.  And the fact that some women have no issue with it is irrelevant.  Many women do.  And as a woman in leadership, I can tell you there is a great pressure to fit in with the guys, and show how "not like other girls" we are by swaggering how it doesn't bother us.  If you are not a woman, you do not have this lived experience, just as I do not have the lived experience of a man with their own set of challenges that I need to be humble enough to listen to.

FWIW, I also object to language that assumes that men are never caregivers or the primary caretakers of children.

To me, this is about respect.  This needs to change in RONR, and I guess I found one of my missions.

Edited by Caryn Ann Harlos

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7 minutes ago, Caryn Ann Harlos said:

I know, which makes it puzzling that consistency wasn't in place.

There is no inconsistency. "Chairman" is a specific title that is used to refer to a temporary presiding officer or one who does not have a different title given by the organization, most commonly the chairman of a committee. "The chair" is the person actually presiding at any time. "Madam Chairman" (without an "e") is only a contradiction if one interprets "chairman" as referring to men and not women, which in the context of RONR it clearly and explicitly doesn't.

«A person presiding at a meeting who has no regular title or whose position is only temporary is addressed as “Mr. [or Madam] Chairman” by long-established usage. Several variations of this form—such as “chairperson” or “chair”—are now frequently encountered, however, and may be in use as the general practice in particular assemblies.» (RONR (12th ed.) 3:10)

It seems to me that is still an entirely true statement, but I understand why you think a different usage should be promoted, and I don't disrespect your opinion. If you are presiding, I will try hard to remember to address you as "Madam Chair" (unless you have a different title) should the occasion arise.

17 minutes ago, Caryn Ann Harlos said:

And the fact that some women have no issue with it is irrelevant.  Many women do.

Do you have any hard evidence about the number of people offended by the word "chairman"? What if many women have no issue with it but some women do? People are fickle. What we like to do sometimes is wait a few extra decades and see where things end up. 🙂

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It is an outdated title. Simply repeating that such is what it has been is not relevant.  Language changes.  There is plenty of hard evidence on the psychological impact on girls of gendered language and it is simply common courtesy.  I fail to see what is so important and what is so invested in such a simple change that one must wait a few decades. It really is astonishing, and sadly disappointing.  

 

I have said what I wish and leave this conversation realizing I am glad I don't have daughters.  but what I do have is young girls who come up to me regularly telling me what they experience and feel and thanking me for being an example.

 

You don't have to change.  But you should.  It is really easy for you not to be bothered by language that doesn't exclude you by definition.  It is, I daresay, a privilege.  One that I do not have.

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Language, especially English with its mongrel origins, does change through usage, and different changes occur at different rates. There are plenty of people who bristle and balk at even the slightest change. But there are others who are umbrageous that change happens not nearly fast enough to suit them. (I respectfully suggest that examples of both sorts can be found no farther away than this very forum.)

I, for one, will make an effort to remain calm when I encounter the use of either "Madam Chairman" or the ungendered singular "they", in the fervent hope that it will all work out in the end.

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On 9/14/2020 at 5:25 AM, Caryn Ann Harlos said:

It can be a bad thing when it alienates a group of people that really were not part of its original audience.

Sorry (or should I say #sorrynotsorry) to come back to this, but I'm not 100% sure what group of people the "original audience" that you're referring to is.

If you mean those who have a (relatively) newly found objection to the traditional language of "chairman" and have decided on behalf of everyone that it is outdated, disrespectful, and inexcusable, then OK. But if you mean women in general, I think the notion is quite absurd that Robert's Rules of Order was written only, or even primarily, with men in mind. The lead author of RONR, as listed on the title page just below the name of Gen. Henry M. Robert, is Sarah Corbin Robert, who is described on the Robert's Rules website as "then the preeminent parliamentarian in the United States." By my count, 39 of the 46 presidents of the National Association of Parliamentarians have been women, and up until a couple of years ago it was the official position of NAP that "chairman" is the correct title and form of address.

14 hours ago, Caryn Ann Harlos said:

I fail to see what is so important and what is so invested in such a simple change that one must wait a few decades.

I don't know how important it is, and I don't feel particularly invested in the title "chairman." The authors don't generally remove established language and procedures from RONR until they're convinced that actual practice, as distinguished from a vocal subset insisting on alternatives, has made them obsolete.

15 hours ago, Caryn Ann Harlos said:

I have said what I wish and leave this conversation

Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts. I'm sure there are plenty of others who agree with you. Having this conversation has been my privilege (so to speak).

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4 hours ago, Gary Novosielski said:

There are plenty of people who bristle and balk at even the slightest change. But there are others who are umbrageous that change happens not nearly fast enough to suit them. (I respectfully suggest that examples of both sorts can be found no farther away than this very forum.)

Yep.

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